How Technical Violations Are Fueling Incarceration in Vermont

    The majority of incarcerated Vermonters are behind state prison bars due to a technical violation of the terms of their release, a research organization found.

    Supervised release programs in Vermont, which has one of the smallest prison populations in the country, are broken, suggests a report by the state’s Justice Reinvestment Working Group for the Council of State Government—a nonprofit organization serving the government. Almost 80 percent of all Vermont Department of Corrections-sentenced admissions were for people returned or revoked from supervised release, like furlough, parole and probation.

    Furlough returns and revocations were the primary source for the admissions, comprising 53 percent of all people entering prison. Furlough involves the release of an incarcerated people up to 180 days before the end of their minimum sentence for the purpose of facilitating successful reintegration into the community.

    The same people are being cycled through the system. Over a thousand people hit with furlough returns—44 percent of the total—have experienced two or more. A troubling proportion (8 percent) of Vermonters have seen five or more furlough returns.

    And more than a third (35 percent) of the furlough returns were for “drug or alcohol issues.” Vermonters incarcerated in the state prison are already more likely to be receiving opioid use disorder medication than the general population, with one-third of them on medication-assisted treatment.

    The failure of furlough system is, in part, attributed by the Working Group to its complexity. There are numerous reasons why a person may be furloughed—including for medical or work purposes, as well as reintegration purposes—and the Department of Corrections many not be adequately “ensuring that people who are at a high risk of recidivating or failing on supervision can connect with appropriate and effective programming and services in the community,” stated the report.

    “It makes for an almost impossible system to navigate successfully,” Ashley Messier, a formerly incarcerated Vermont organizer for the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, told Seven Days, an independent Vermont publication. “People in the system refer to FSU as ‘fucking set-up.'”

    The Working Group recommends consolidating the different types of furlough statuses into just one, “Supervised Community Release.” While DOC is at it, the Working Group recommends, furlough supervision should no longer be considered part of incarceration (as it currently is), and more effort should be put towards connecting people with community services.

    Photograph of VDOC’s Southern State Correctional Facility by VDOC

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